Who cares about a stupid kids game? Why are you so obsessed with this team? Why are you acting like a baby when your team loses? Why do you care about these millionaire athletes that will never know who you are? Why do you have so many jerseys? Why would you spend so much money on a baseball game? These are just a few of the many questions I’ve heard non-sports fans ask in reference to those of us that love sports. As crazy as some of the things we do as sports fans are, it’s actually very rational and normal behavior. The psychology behind being a sports fan proves why sports matter so much to us, and also show that if you are not a sports fan, you simply can’t understand all of the joy and heartbreak and general lifestyle decisions that we go through every single day.
The word “fan” actually comes from a Latin word that means “insanely but divinely inspired.” One of the first reasons that we become sports fans is because it is one of our first connections to the community and therefore one of our first identities. Sports teams actually serve the same purpose as church and family: create a sense of belonging with those around you. One study even found that looking at a picture of your favorite sports teams caused the same reaction in the brain as looking at picture of your spouse. As humans, one of our basic needs is to feel like we belong. Whether it’s playing on a sports team with other athletes, or rooting for your favorite team with friends around you, sports very much satisfies this desire. Studies even show that sports fans have higher self-esteem, are less depressed, and are less lonely.
But the true identity of a sports fan goes even deeper than being part of a community. It’s a phenomenon that psychologically connects us to the players and teams we root for. Our favorite teams become an extension of ourselves. The brain actually thinks that it is part of the team…which is why fans constantly refer to their teams as “we” when speaking about them. This is because of mirror neurons in our brain that cause us to live vicariously through the athletes we are observing. When they win, our brain experiences the same euphoria that comes with a victory, and when they lose, our brain experiences the same disappointment as if we personally lost. One study even found that male sports spectators experience the same testosterone level increases as the athletes they were watching on the field.
So, to summarize, being a sports fan goes beyond just watching games and wearing our favorite team’s merchandise. It is psychologically ingrained into our very identity. A sports team is extension of oneself. We personally feel like we’ve succeeded when our team wins and feel like we failed when our team loses. When Roger Goodell attacks the Patriots and treats them unfairly, I feel like I am personally being attacked and treated unfairly. My hatred for Roger Goodell isn’t crazy, it’s actually a normal, logical response.
Being a Boston sports fan has been, and always will be, part of my identity. They will bring joy and they will bring me heartbreak, but rooting for my teams isn’t simply some crazy, obsessive hobby. It’s who I am and it’s a way of life.